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Organic Farmers on Alert Following Monsanto Ruling

Farmers "concerned" for ruling's implication on upcoming suits against the biotech giant

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

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Monday's unanimous Supreme Court ruling against Indiana soybean farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman in favor of agriculture giant Monsanto has organic farmers on alert.

"I think all [...] farmers and citizens should be concerned," said Jim Gerritsen, president of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA).

OSGATA along with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association is embroiled in a similar suit against the seed giant. The organic groups are suing Monsanto in a "pre-emptive strike" on behalf of organic farmers to protect against accusations of patent infringement in the case that their organic crops become contaminated by genetically modified (GM) seeds.

Such contamination can easily occur when GM seeds or pollen are carried by winds or pollinators to adjacent organic farm fields.

According to Gerritsen, since 1997 Monsanto has sued or settled in court with over 844 family farms over alleged infringement after their seeds spread to nearby farms, the Portland (ME) Press Herald reports.

"Monsanto is the world's most famous patent bully," Gerritsen said. "Monsanto villainizes everyone they sue, and everyone they come up against becomes the bad guy."

On Monday, the 'bad guy' was 75-year-old Bowman, who attempted to argue before the court that the mix of soybean seeds that he purchased second hand from a grain elevator—some of which were Monsanto's patented RoundUp Ready—did not violate the company's patent because their ownership was "exhausted" through the process of natural seed reproduction and no longer applied.

Arguing before the court, Bowman explained that soybeans naturally “self-replicate or ‘sprout’ unless stored in a controlled manner,” and thus “it was the planted soybean, not Bowman” himself, that made replicas of Monsanto’s patented invention.

In response, Obama-appointed Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her official opinion (pdf), "We think that blame-the-bean defense tough to credit."

That opinion, which was unanimous among the Justices Monday, put other defenders of seed sovereignty on their toes.

"We are always disappointed when the biotech industry strikes out against any farmer that is trying to save seeds," said Heather Spaulding, interim director of MOFGA. "It is really difficult for us to understand how the biotech industry can justify laying claims to life forms through patents."

Referencing his own upcoming trial, Gerritsen added, "These cases have some similarities in that they challenge the overreach by these huge corporations."

OSGATA et al. v. Monsanto is currently pending in the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit following oral arguments in January.


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